A Work Of Heart

Recently, I read through my notes, highlights and insights from a book that I read about 4 years ago and now from a different perspective having more time serving in ministry. I first read this book in 2012 in my capstone class with Ohio Christian University as part of my degree in Leadership and Ministry. A Work Of Heart is an excellent book detailing the circumstances in life that God can use to shape spiritual leaders. Through this I can see a fresh perspective on how God has shaped and continues to shape me as a leader.

McNeal starts off with the first section of the book detailing the lives of four great leadership examples in the Bible: Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus. He dedicates a chapter to each of these four lives, detailing how God shaped each of them for the leadership positions into which each one was placed.

A few of my favorite quotes from this section:

Too early promotion can mean too short a ministry. (p.44)

Leaders of great legacy look back over their lives and see that in every ministry assignment, God was preparing them for the next. (p.45)

Part two is much more in-depth. These chapters examine the six areas that McNeal identifies as “heart-shaping areas.” Here is a brief synopsis of each of the six:

Culture: Meeting The World
For a leader to know his culture requires three tasks:

  1. Knowing where he comes from;
  2. Knowing where he stands;
  3. Knowing where he wants to go and take others with him.

These include shaping by the leader’s family and early life; the leader’s current position in life and its surrounding circumstances; and a strong sense of mission. The leader’s historical, social, and environmental influences help determine his leadership development.

Having a position or title no longer guarantees that people automatically afford leadership to the person in that position. Leadership must now be earned; it is no longer bestowed. Effective leaders grasp this cultural shift and its implications for them. They evidence servant attitudes and focus on building people as the way to missional effectiveness. (p.83)

First, the leader must demonstrate competency in systems thinking (p.84)

Call: Figuring Out Why We Are Here
God calls leaders. God calls each of us. This call is a “divinely orchestrated setting apart of the leader for some special task. God’s part of the call dynamic is to initiate, guide, position, and intervene. The leader’s part in the call drama is to hear, respond, search and order or reorder life.” This aspect of leadership development helps the leader understand why he is on this planet.

Who is your audience…for we all play to an audience we hold in our mind…This question probes whose approval we are after. (p112)

Questions to consider:

  • What did you answer the call to do?
  • Have you seen the attendant gifts, talents, and passion come along?
  • What has God anointed? When do you feel most alive in ministry?
  • How has your understanding of your call changed over time?
  • How is the call being expressed in what you are doing right now?
  • Who is your audience?

Community: Connecting With Others’ Hearts
Leaders are not shaped in isolation. Leaders are shaped in and by community. The heart of a leader is developed by his involvement with other lives. This can take shape in many different venues within the leader’s life: past family, current family, church family, friends, and much more. Leaders become leaders, in part, because they are willing to wrestle with who they are, who they want to become, how they can overcome some deficit in their own lives.

One of the warning signals of burnout is a growing resentment of the demands being placed on the leader. (p.119)

Communion: Rehearsing For Eternity
Spiritual leadership depends on a solid relationship with God. However, this area is the most often neglected area of a leader’s life. But this area is crucial: “Through communion, the leader learns the lessons of God’s activity” in the other areas of heart-shaping. When spiritual leaders consistently practice communion with God, a solid sense of purpose is developed. Communion is about the relationship with the One doing the heart-shaping. Communion helps the leader’s heart beat as one with God’s heart.

Without Sabbath, our souls lose touch with our true destiny. Life becomes too common and profane.(p.143)

We will not have renewed ministries until we have renewed leaders. (p.143)

Conflict: Learning To Die So We Can Live
Conflict is a difficult, and yet very necessary part of the heart-shaping of the leader. Through conflict, the leader grows. Through conflict, the leader learns to trust in God, and to trust in other people. “Spiritual leaders must welcome conflict as a heart-shaping tool of God.” The heart-shaping work of God in this area is the hardest and most painful area where God deals with the soul of the leader. How the leader handles conflict will often be the way that the leader is remembered. It is crucial to leave a legacy of handling conflict well. “Hearts destined for greatness usually get hammered on now to be rewarded later.”

Commonplace: Discovering That The Ordinary Is Extra-Ordinary
This is, perhaps, the most surprising arena in which God does his heart-shaping. God uses the common, everyday pieces of life to shape the leader. When God is honored in the small decisions that the leader is faced with daily, the heart is shaped so that the leader is ready for the bigger issues when they appear. “The routine circumstances and the ordinary stuff of life provide a constantly active arena for God’s intervention in the life of the leader. The effective and growing spiritual leader has learned to see God’s heart-shaping activity in what deceptively appears as a minor subplot but really turns out to be a major theme in the leader’s development.” God shapes the leader’s heart to be one of integrity in all things, big or small.

Important habits the leader can adapt that will make the commonplace a heart-shaping friendly place:

  • Habit Number One: Look for God
  • Habit Number Two: Keep Learning
  • Habit Number Three: Say Yes to God
  • Habit Number Four: Stay Grateful

A Work Of Heart was a very enlightening read. Its message is timeless, and still valid after more than ten years. Reggie McNeal write with a very intellectual style, and often I had to go back and re-read portions to make sure I understood the gist of what he was saying. That only reinforces the depth of God’s heart-shaping work in my life. I didn’t want to miss anything of what God was saying to me through this book.

If you are in a position of spiritual leadership, I would highly recommend that you read this book. Take a look at how God is shaping your heart. I think, the more you are aware of how God works in your life, the more you can see where he desires you to partner with him in that work. Through this you can gain a new perspective relative to where you are and God’s work in your life.

If you are interested in reading this book, you can purchase it at Amazon.com using this link. A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders

Who is your audience…for we all play to an audience we hold in our mind…This question probes whose approval we are after. (p112)